Even after reeling off 10 consecutive wins, reaching the Southeastern Conference Championship game and fueling optimism for the future, Georgia’s football players haven’t forgotten about how they felt after their last bowl game.
Georgia's Tavarres King (12) celebrates a touchdown catch against Auburn. King said last season's low point came in a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
“That was the lowest that anybody could get here,” receiver Tavarres King said.
Georgia didn’t ensure a trip to a bowl game last year until the final day of its regular season, when it turned back Georgia Tech and then played like it would rather be anywhere other than the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
Central Florida dealt Georgia a 10-6 loss, leaving the Bulldogs with a 6-7 record and their first losing season since 1996. Georgia had its lowest scoring output in a bowl game since a 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh in the 1977 Sugar Bowl.
A “dark night for Georgia football that night,” athletic director Greg McGarity said.
“Obviously the season had a lot to do with it, but us losing that ballgame shed a really negative light on the program,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We had to fight through that adversity as well as doing what you’re supposed to do in the offseason. I think you can get something positive going finishing with a win. That’s the great thing about college football, the bowl system: you can finish with a win and get positive momentum going in the offseason.”
After the Liberty Bowl loss, Georgia began an offseason that included an overhauled roster with several players with eligibility remaining transferring out—some leaving on their own, others encouraged to move on.
“I don’t know if you’d call that the straw that broke the camel’s back or that last spark that lit the fire that got things moving around here,” tight end Aron White said. “It was definitely time for a change. … It definitely got us going. It definitely lit a fire under us and got us to working and pushing.”
That fire eventually helped produce a 10-3 season, which put the Bulldogs in a more prominent bowl: the Outback on Jan .2 against Michigan State.
“It was just so different a year ago, just the overall spirit of the team by the time we got to that one,” coach Mark Richt said. “We were all professional and we all wanted to do our best. It was hard to have a lot of life. It was a battle.”
Cornerback Brandon Boykin called Georgia’s performance against UCF “a mediocre-type game, sluggish, just kind of going through the motions.”
White said there “was a lot of negativity surrounding our program, guys maybe kind of getting down on ourselves. The fans talking about, ‘Are you guys sad that you went to this bowl?’ We were happy that we made a bowl.”
Richt said he has seen players practicing with energy and happy to be around their teammates during this season’s bowl practices, which wrap up on campus this morning before the team reconvenes on Dec. 26 in Tampa.
“I think the guys are excited about the opportunity,” Richt said. “I think overall this team has taken on a much more positive outlook on things from the very beginning starting last January.”
That loss to Central Florida snapped a four-game bowl winning streak for Georgia.
“It was the first time we’ve ever lost a bowl game that I’ve ever experienced and I know a lot of the players here,” said Boykin, part of teams that beat Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl and Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl. “We weren’t used to that and didn’t want Georgia to continue to keep going down every year. We wanted to bring it back up.”